While the Xenomorph makes a welcome return, she's a shadow of the horror she used to be20TH CENTURY FOX

Wagner. Shelley. Michelangelo. Ridley Scott seems desperate to convince his audience he is a thoroughly cultured director. His films have never shied from philosophy, specifically questions of causation and teleology; Blade Runner remains his strongest work in this domain. But, much like in the drawn-out dialogue of Prometheus, it all feels rather forced.

The creation-creator tension, the titular covenant between them, exploring the difference between personhood and automata. It’s all been done before – and better – in the likes of Ex Machina. So too with the casually placed references: a copy of The Selfish Gene makes a cameo, reminiscent of Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation in The Matrix. It is a startling prompt that this whole endeavour into the questions of life and creation have stemmed from the works of Richard Dawkins. No wonder then, when it comes down to it, the plot is immensely unstable.

“With every chest-burst, the horror disappointingly diminishes into the black of night.”

After Prometheus was largely panned for steering too far from the original course of the Nostromo, Scott promised fans a return to the style they came to love in the late ‘70s. At times he succeeds, and Alien: Covenant shows signs of greatness. After an excellent prologue, the familiar French horn of Jerry Goldsmith’s original theme fills the cinema, never failing to bring a sadistic smile to one’s face, knowing the carnage that awaits. And carnage there is aplenty; there is more blood, death, and F-bombs here than the rest of the franchise combined.

But that’s where it all gets a little bit silly. While somewhat dated today, Alien terrified its original audiences in the unbearable silences, sometimes filled with suspenseful flutes (another welcome return), and a largely unseen threat, pursuing its prey as a minotaur around the labyrinthine spaceship. Here the xenomorph makes a return in full CGI-glory, and while it remains a cinematic icon, she’s somewhat less frightening in the flesh, sometimes even laughable. With every chest-burst, the horror disappointingly diminishes into the black of night.

To facilitate the massacre that ensues, the crew of the Covenant is large, falling into the same trap as its predecessor in severe lack of character development. Indeed, they often come and go in the same scene to cram in more existential questioning; the pacing, so expertly constructed before, falls to pieces.

There are strong performances, however, and once again it is Michael Fassbender’s show. Taking on the dual roles of David and Walter, each of his scenes raise the game, eerily teaching himself to play the flute or reciting Ozymandias as he launches a plague on an entire civilisation. As he walks past thousands of embryos lining the ship’s halls to the resounding ‘Entry of the Gods into Valhalla’, the film is brought to an end on a thrilling high. Nevertheless, the focus often flickers over to Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), who, while a drastic improvement on Noomi Rapace’s pathetic Dr. Shaw, is no Sigourney Weaver. The rest of the ensemble, regrettably, are mostly forgettable.

Despite Fassbender’s grippingly sinister performance(s), Alien: Covenant fails to rectify the flaws of Prometheus. With at least two more prequels in the works, hopefully by the time we rejoin the original crew of the Nostromo, Scott will have got the formula just right

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